NYC Residents Who Drive to Work: Homeowners, Government Employees

NYC residents who work for the government are more likely than private sector employees to drive alone to work. Source: 2011 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, Table S0802

The Census has released a new set of data that helps shed some light on how New Yorkers get to work. Nationally, the percentage of workers driving to work alone edged down, while transit made a tiny gain. New York City saw the same pattern, with carpooling also showing a slight drop.

Unlike the national figures, New York’s numbers fall just outside the margin of error, demonstrating a small but measurable change. The data comes from the American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates for 2011.

While the New York Times focused on the fact that drivers have shorter average commute times than transit riders (which the Times admitted was nothing new), digging deeper into the data shows some revealing information about how NYC commuters get to work.

NYC residents who commute to work by car are more likely to own their own home than other NYC residents. Source: 2011 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, Table S0802

A big distinction between workers who drive alone and those who take transit is the type of housing they occupy. There are approximately two working NYC residents who rent their apartments for every one who lives in an owner-occupied unit. However, 57 percent of workers who drive alone own their own home, while 73 percent of transit commuters lived in a rental apartment. This increased likelihood of homeowners to drive to work alone could be due to the fact that areas in the city with less transit access also tend to have higher homeownership rates.

When you break down the data some more, an obvious distinction arises for government workers in New York City. Government employees make up 22 percent of commuters driving alone, but only 11 percent of transit commuters. Perhaps there is some link between the outsize rate of government employees driving alone to work and rampant illegal parking and placard abuse across the city.

This post has been updated.

  • Joe R.

    I wonder if there is any breakdown by work place location/home location? I’ll bet it’s a good guess that the vast majority of people who drive to work live AND work in the outer boroughs, especially the parts with very poor transit coverage unless you’re going into Manhattan. It makes absolutely no sense to drive into Manhattan unless you need the car during the day as part of your job for the simple reason it takes longer to drive and costs more. I’ll bet good money that the vast majority of car commuters driving all the way into Manhattan originate in the suburbs. All the people I know locally who have cars all use them to get around where transit is inconvenient. When they go to Manhattan, they nearly always take the subway.

  • Does “government” include federal, state, and local?  NYC has a fairly sizeable population of federal government employees, most of whom are provided with a (more) generous (than the transit option) parking subsidy, which would, no doubt, have some effect. Which raises an interesting question: what are commuter benefit programs like in NYC’s private sector? Do most employers offer transit benefits or free parking?

  • Anonymous

    @twitter-9524742:disqus Yes, the Census definition includes federal, state and local government employees.

  • anxiously awaiting bikeshare

    Can someone share the census’ methodology here for people who both drive and use transit. Which category are they counted? Thanks!

  • Jsd

    I would wager that these numbers are heavily weighted by Staten Island public sector workers. There are a lot of cops, firefighters, and sanitation workers out here, and I haven’t met a single one who uses public transit to get to work.

  • Anonymous

    @73a27bc20bf5ce1dee9a6e325a0eecec:disqus Respondents must choose one mode. The question is: “How did this person usually get to work LAST WEEK? If this person usually used more than one method of transportation during the trip, mark (X) the box of the one used for most of the distance.” For more information on Census methodology, visit the Census website:

  • Walkman

    Something is wrong with these numbers, as walking and biking are not represented. 

  • Anonymous

    @2f10f165c84c2d70aeb5b8ffa1476a32:disqus The Census provides data for walking and biking to work for the general population in the ACS 1-Year Estimates in Table S0801. But it does not make walking or biking to work data available for characteristics such as private/public sector or homeowner/renter. Table S0802 only provides data for drive alone, carpool and transit.

  • Jesse Greene

    so 64% of New Yorkers working in the private sector commuted by car?  Does that make sense to anyone who lives here?  Do I just not know enough Staten Islanders?  Am I just your typical elitist East Harlemer who only knows people who take the bus?

  • Larry Littlefield

    These numbers are incorrect.

    The 2011 percents for all employed NYC residents are 22.1% drove alone, and 4.7% carpool.  But every one of your subgroups are way above these categories.  And the carpool levels are above those seen anywhere in the United States.

  • Larry Littlefield

    From the NY Times:  “The 2011 American Community Survey also found workers in the region reported the longest commute — 33.8 minutes — of any metropolitan area.”
    OK, if it is for the metropolitan area then the drove alone figure becomes possible.  But the carpool figure remains impossible.  I’m 110 percent sure of it.

  • Anonymous

    @f9b2cb395abd5a101456b3b0a40912e1:disqus You are right. I’ve fixed the graph and the final paragraph to reflect this.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Thanks, but it still doesn’t get to the issue.  For that you’d need the modal split for each group, if possible.

    It isn’t just rampant double parking and placard abuse, or even non-abused placards. It’s location.  NYC’s jobs are concentrated in the Manhattan CBD, well served by mass transit.  But its government jobs are scattered around the city in proportion to population, at police precincts, firehouses, schools, train yards, bus depots.  Transit is less of an option for those living and working in scattered locations, unless they are lucky enough that it is the same general location.

    That’s why I had suggested a dynamic carpool system to be organized at first around government workers, back when I worked for the government.  An unusually large share of them live on Staten Island, and most work elsewhere.

  • Matthijs van Guilder

    I live in a transit desert (Marine Park) and have worked and gone to school in Midtown, Harlem, Downtown Brooklyn, Long Island City, East Flatbush, Coney Island, etc. as well as Farmingdale, Long Island. I have also had to work and/or go to class in off hours/late hours. Public transit + walking is way over 33 minutes, like twice to 3X as long. If there is a chance of parking a car, I took it. I also commuted by bike in the mid 1970’s, but let’s talk real time/reality/safety and practicality here. There are only 24 hours in a day.

  • J

    I think the homeowner vs renter bit is a bit misleading. Put simply, there are way more homeowners in areas poorly served by transit and way more renters in areas with excellent transit service, so that is probably what accounts for the difference, not the actual ownership of the home.

  • carma

    Until these charts actually make some sense, i dont believe any of these numbers.

  • Paul Peterson

    @14a8960ffa19c6b0ffff4264aba1f641:disqus These numbers aren’t for how many people took transit or drove, they’re telling us where they work.



Across the U.S., Poor Job Access Compels Even People Without Cars to Drive

Cross-posted from Brookings’ The Avenue blog. This article is the second in a short series examining new Census data on transportation trends. While more Americans are relying on alternative modes to get to work every day, cars still define most of our commutes. Over time, these high driving rates not only reflect a built environment that continues to promote […]